Vicente Fox at Wayne State University. (Photo: Centro Fox)
A capacity crowd of activists, politicians, students and intellectuals from the Detroit metro area gathered at Wayne State University Sept. 12 to listen to former Mexican President Vicente Fox give a lecture on “Globalization and Immigration.” Those attending the highly publicized event were eager to hear Fox’s thoughts on immigration from the Mexican perspective.
While the immigration debate has mostly been put in the back burner -as opposed to the economy and the Iraq war- during the 2008 campaign, Fox said he believes the issue will be front and center and could be used as a wedge issue as we get closer to the November 4 election.
When asked about his thoughts on the current debate, Fox said the discussion was “misleading, full of destruction and lack of factual information.” He went on to say that the immigration debate needs to be more objective and that the American people, as well as the media, are uninformed.
According to the Employment Policy Foundation, the United States has a systemic labor shortage that is expected to transform the workplace over the next 25 to 30 years, as baby boomers retire. In this context, while the United States needs and benefits from immigrant labor, Fox said, Mexico suffers from the northward migration in the long term, losing its human capital.
“All this energy, all this talent is needed in Mexico for the development of the nation and the competitiveness of the economy,” Fox said.
Immigration regulation is key to changing the current dialogue. Fox said he supports legislation like the failed McCain-Kennedy bill, proposed in 2005. The plan would have allowed illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before Jan. 7, 2004, and who have jobs, to work legally for an additional six years and eventually become citizens, after paying fines and meeting certain citizenship requirements.
The U.S., Fox stressed, was sharply criticized for not addressing the human side of immigration, such as the impact on families, mental health, human and workers’ rights. He said the current dialogue only deals with economic drain, job loss and a wall on the border.
But the former Mexican president had a positive outlook on the future of his own country and said Mexico is poised to turn itself around in the 21st century. Many Latin American countries, he reminded the audience, spent most of the previous century under single-party rule, corrupt dictators and military regimes. Fox’s own presidency (2000-2006) is considered historic because it ended 71 years of uninterrupted rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party.
“We have not been able to enjoy democracy,” Fox said.
Threatening Mexico’s success is organized crime’s seemingly growing power. Current president Felipe Calderon used the fight against drugs and drug cartels as the cornerstone of his campaign and has declared war on the cartels since taking office in 2006.
“Mexico has the unfortunate luck to be between drug-producing countries and the United States, the largest consumer of drugs in the world,” Fox said.
Fox closed by saying that visionary ideas are needed on both sides of the border, in order to solve the immigration crisis.
“The Mexican government,” he said, “is more than willing to work hard to retain our own people and make sure that we have opportunities for them.”